Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Are intentions more important than consequences?

In one of my classes, we're talking about the theory of duty ethics in comparison to utilitarianism, and one of the major differences between the two is that duty ethics believes that the intentions of an action are more important than the intentions, and utilitarianism asserts that the consequences are more important. One thing about ethical theories is that there are strong arguments for all of them and there really is no right or wrong solution. There is never a way to make everything perfect.

I was thinking, which is more important, intentions or consequences? Let's say a child is about to fall off a ladder. In one scenario, someone runs over and jumps to catch the child, but they miss and the child falls. In another scenario, someone is worried about the expensive glass Christmas ornament in the child's hand and runs to grab the ornament, saving the child from falling in the process. Which is better?

I think the first is better, because even though the child still fell, the intention to save the child was there, meaning that the thoughts of doing good were also there. In the second, sure the child didn't fall, but the force of good was absent. The intention was to save the ornament, not the child. The good consequence was unintentional.

I believe that in a world where everyone tries their hardest to do good but still fails is better than a society where everyone has the worst of intentions but somehow accidentally yields good consequences. The altruistic mentality to do good is what makes things right. If someone tries their hardest to do the best they can, to help people, and to produce good consequences, and the consequences still don't turn out right, I don't think they were meant to be right.

I think good always conquers evil in some way or another.



  1. I agree...intentions are more important. Even if someone fails to do good, they know that they at least tried. It sounds like that was an interesting class discussion.
    In my class, we've talked about philosophers instead of theories like those. We've discussed rationalists and empiricists (Reason vs. Sense perception). It's intersesting too.

  2. I like the way my teacher teaches because instead of making us learn about the philosophers, she makes us apply what they believed to real situations.

  3. Sorry for my typo. I meant to say interesting.